Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ironman Coeur d'Alene: run training- who needs it?

Alright folks- sorry for the radio silence. At some point I started focusing on nothing but the race and everything else just sort of fell by the wayside. I thought you all might get a kick out of the events leading up to the big day, as well as the actual race report, so without further delay...

First off, United Airlines, I hate you. And I mean from the bottom of my heart, despise your business practices right up there with big oil, hope you go bankrupt, hate you. Allow me to elaborate: After getting to the airport several hours early the Wed before the race, meeting up with our travel partners, checking luggage, getting coffee and sitting right next to the gate, 10 min prior to boarding time I see one person say something to someone else, a bunch of people start whispering, then everyone rush up to the gate agent. Not good as this could only mean one thing. Yup. Flight canceled. Having been through this before, I knew that line wasn't going anywhere fast. All 5 of our group immediately get on the phone with customer service. Making a very long story short, one of us gets re-booked on a 4-leg ridiculous journey that winds up stranding him in Denver overnight, getting to CdA Thursday. The other 4 of us, after literally hours on the phone (no Miss Customer Service Lady, I can't wait until Fri night. What? I know I was originally booked to go through Chicago, but I don't need to go there, just get me to Spokane. What? NO. I don't care about Chicago. Pretend I was never flying through there. Spokane is the destination. What? FORGET F-ING CHICAGO!!!) had to abandon our checked baggage to fate, leave Reagan National, drive to Dulles, stand in 2 more lines and beg someone to actually re-issue our tickets. The upshot is we had to re-book to Seattle, and then purchase commuter flights on Alaska Airlines to actually get to Spokane. (Alaska Airlines, you and your free wine are ok in my book!). So... instead of being there in time for lunch, we spent half the day in limbo and rolled into CdA around midnight with none of our checked luggage. Anticipating the luggage debacle, I had all of my tri-stuff, to include wetsuit, cycling shoes, helmet, pedals, etc, with me. I'm smart that way. I did not have clean underwear (sorry mom), toiletries, or anything warmer than a t-shirt.

Thursday: In the morning I was up with the sun around 4am, wandered around town taking some pictures of a beautiful sunrise, and waited for the coffee shop to open for my daily cappuccino.  After  the rest of the slackers in our group woke up, we walked the 3 blocks down to the swim (yup, we were staying a whopping 3 blocks from the swim, transition, Ironman village, and the finishers chute was literally right in front of our door. Money.)  For anyone who is curious, 58 degree water is not as warm as you think. We suited up (for me: full-sleeve wetsuit, neoprene hood, and yes, booties) and hopped in. There really is nothing like the sensation you get when water starts leaking in through the zipper, filling the suit. After feeling my nuts retract into my stomach, I swam for about 30 min. The water was actually quite pleasant once my face went numb and the wetsuit started doing its job. Afterward we went back home and relaxed a bit, Chris miraculously arrived from his 4-leg journey and somehow found my bag at the airport. We all went and wandered around the IM village until registration opened up, picked up our bikes from Tri-bike Transport, and then drove the bike course. As an aside, i did this race in 2006 before they re-vamped the bike course. In this case, the definition of re-vamped should read "made a whole lot harder". If memory serves, there were 25 climbs, some of which turned out to be "granny-gear-out-of-the-seat". The course designers also did a great job of negating the benefits of the downhills by conveniently placing hairpin turns right at the bottom, before the next uphill. Well done, Ironman. Well done.

Friday: Another swim in the morning. The water appeared to be colder than the day prior, and a SW wind was blowing steadily at about 15mph. The result of this was a pretty good chop, along with some swells in the water. Yesterday excluded, I had not swam in open water, or in a wetsuit, since 2007. Yup, 3 years. So this turned out to be some good sighting practice. After the swim, we took it easy for a few hours and then did a short bike to make sure everything was working as advertised, and again spent the remainder of the day not doing much else.

Saturday: The day before the day. Not much to do here but do some final gear checks, top off the fuel tank, and watch 2500 type-A personalities freak the hell out.

Sunday: Up at 0330 to get breakfast in at 0400. Grabbed gear bags, wife, and coffee, and headed to the start.

Swim: 2 loops, counter-clockwise, beach start. Liz and I positioned ourselves in the middle of the pack, towards the back.  We lost Chris and Tony on the beach, which was OK because they needed to be up with the speedy swimmers anyway. The original plan was to start on the right side of the pack, and then drift into the race line. We should have made more of an effort to get there. The cannon went off at 0700, I said a silent prayer that my foot would hold up, and watched our 2500 best friends became our 2500 worst enemies.  It's amazing how similar an Ironman swim is to driving in traffic. Everyone but you is an a$$hole. A quick hug and kiss, and Liz and I hit the water trying to make sure we didn't hit each other as we drifted into the sea of black, neoprene clad jackasses.  Had we started a bit more to the right we would have had some more time to let the pack thin out as we drifted into line, but instead we were right in the middle of the scrum. Oh well. I was actually swimming fairly well, catching quite a bit of draft until we came to the first turn.  The turn went from South to East, and put us smack into the rising sun, unable to see or sight. This wouldn't have been a problem if people kept swimming, but the large majority began to breast-stroke to try and sight, which caused a massive pile-up of bodies that took several minutes to sort out. This was compounded by the large number of what I assume were first timers, or just people uncomfortable in the water, who began freaking out when they couldn't move forward. I personally saw 2 people lose it and make a bee-line for the kayaks. Eventually the madness ended and we made the turn towards shore. I came out of the water on the first lap in 42 min. Through the timing mat and back in for lap two, this time taking a wide line, sacrificing the draft for clear water. The second lap was nondescript,  with the exception of a 10 min long series of significant swells that made me wonder if I was in the ocean, or if a sea monster was somehow swimming underneath me, playing with me as an orca does to a seal.  Fortunately I didn't get eaten, and came out with a total time of 1:29. Not my best, but I'll take it.

T1- Uneventful. The last time I did this race, I was in such a hurry to get on the bike that I didn't get nearly enough sunscreen on my back and wound up with the worst sunburn of my life (4 years later and you can still see the scars). I didn't make that mistake again and took the time to have myself frosted like a cake.

Bike: 2 loops. My favorite part of the race. After strapping on my HR monitor and heading out of transition, I rode easy for about 5 minutes waiting for my HR to come down. At 15 min I took my first salt-stick tab and waited another 15 minutes to ensure my HR had stabilized (in the 140's) and had my first gel. I went on like this throughout the bike, alternating gel (I use e-Gel) and salt tabs every 15 min.  This nutrition strategy worked perfectly for the duration. At about mile 20ish, heading out of town towards the hills I passed Andy Potts coming back from his first lap, followed by (i think) Luke Bell a few minutes later. I made the mental note that I would really prefer not to get lapped by any of the pro's, who were now roughly 20 miles behind me. The climbs began about 10 miles later. I really must have a blazingly fast setup on the bike (S-Works Transition w/Zipp 808s. Note that I said the bike was blazingly fast, not me :). On the downhills, tucked into my little aero position, I was passing tons of people, including much larger guys riding disks who were pedaling away. I think this is the part of the bike where I was most efficient- I've always been a pretty good descender and unlike most I didn't balk at the speeds (I think I topped out at 47mph), or the turns at the bottoms. Now if only I were equally as good on the climbs :) I caught up to Liz, who was about 9 min ahead of me out of the water, around mile 30ish, right at the beginning of the climbs. I slowed to chat w/her for a few min and then kept on going. Amazing how she is always smiling.  Somewhere on this loop I passed Tony going the opposite direction, who was well ahead and looking strong. Into the second lap I caught up to Chris around mile 60, who was 30 min ahead of me out of the water. I had put some sweet potatoes into my special needs, and grabbed them as I exchanged my gel flasks (I froze the flasks the night before, but they were still hot and nasty by the time I got to them. Oh well...) The sweet potatoes were a mistake- I knew at this point of the race I would be craving solid food, which is why i brought them. I only ate a few pieces to see how they would sit in my stomach, which was not well. 5 min after eating them my stomach let me know it was unhappy. I discarded the rest and 5 min later I was fine. On lap number 2 the hills really took their toll- the heat was building and I saw a number of people walking the really tough ones. My gels were hot, and getting tougher to swallow.  That said, all in all the bike went well- I evenly split my times and never let my HR get out of control (130s while descending, 140s while riding, 150s and 160s while climbing) and had very little cardiac drift. The only real issue I had was my lower back, which required 2 brief stops (30 sec or so), around miles 50 and 90, to stretch out. That and I need to learn how to relieve while riding- so far it just isn't happening.  I finished in 6:24 (6:18 on my computer, accounting for relief stops and back stretching.) Considering the relative difficulty of this course and how fresh I felt going into the run, I was exceedingly happy.

T2: Nondescript, except I couldn't figure out why some guy at bike-in insisted I leave my bike with him and he would rack it. Chalk it up to a little IM delirium :). Changed my shoes, re-applied sunscreen, and off I went.

Run: 2 laps. The first mile or so was a bit painful as I waited for my legs to come back, which they did. Once they did I was running quite easily until about mile 4, sipping some coke and water at each aid station. As I left town, and along with it the shade, I immediately began to feel the effects of the direct sun. This was a learning point for me- I could still drink the coke and water, but could no longer stomach swallowing pills.  Something similar happened in 2006, but exponentially worse then. And then it began to fall apart. It started as a slight burning sensation in my foot, which gradually got worse. Around mile 5 I decided to try a 8/2 run walk and assess how it went. Before I got to mile 6 I had already changed to a 5/5 run/walk, and by mile 7 it was all walk. As I went up the steep hill at the turn-around I felt a "pop" that was so distinctive I could have sworn I actually heard it. Not good. When I made the turn to go downhill I took my first step and almost fell over. I limped my way downhill until I got on the flats and tried to run again. It wasn't happening. From here I just started walking (more of a speed-limp, actually). I figured out that if my foot struck perfectly flat from side-to-side, it was ok. But if it was rolled either right or left it hurt like hell. Somewhere along the march back to town I ran into Liz (who was dealing w/her own HR/nausea issues) as she was heading out to the turnaround, and we chatted for a few min. At this point I was mentally checked out. I was literally looking for a medical tent to get some treatment and turn my chip in. My foot was killing me, and the prospect of walking another 16 miles didn't exactly appeal to my pride. Then, somewhere after my chat w/Liz, it dawned on me that I have never DNF'd in my life. The thought of doing that, while I was still able to walk (and honestly, with the exception of my foot, I felt fine) did not sit well. I resigned myself to walk as best as I could until I either finished or was pulled from the course. I was averaging just over 13 min miles, and at this point I was still on track to equal my time from 2006. And then the miracle happened. Around mile 17 I realized my foot, while still painful, was fairly numb. It hurt to walk, so why not give running one more shot?  I took a few steps, paying attention to keeping my foot perfectly centered, and it hurt, but no more than walking. If I let it roll a little left or right it felt like someone hit it with a hammer. So I just kept on running, afraid that if I stopped I wouldn't be able to start again. About every 10th stride I would mis-step, sending a shot of pain through my foot and into my leg. But it was now bearable (ostensibly because it had gone mostly numb :) At some point I realized I was down on salt, and miraculously the chicken soup came out. Good lord that tasted like heaven. I wound up running the last 9 miles in just over 94 minutes. Now for some humor- As I was coming down the street leading to the finishers chute I noticed a girl about 20 yards ahead of me, who I was gaining on. Not wanting to ruin her finishers picture, I slowed my pace to give her a nice gap. Then some other girl goes sprinting by me, which, in my somewhat delirious state really pissed me off. So I turned on whatever jets I had left and wound up flying past both of them to become that idiot who goes sprinting down the finishers chute to a 14+ hour IM. Heh.

Total time 14:10

Other mentions:

Phil- 9:40ish (Kona Slot!)
Tony- 10:45 (not bad for an old guy!)
Chris- 14:30ish (not bad for a really old guy!)
Liz- 15:41 (considering she finished an IM marathon in a perpetual state of tachycardia- damn!)

Parting note: As I stood on the beach before the start, I remember thinking to myself that I am probably one of maybe 10 or 20 people out here (if that many?) who trained using an entirely different method than the traditional LSD protocol. On top of that, I'm fairly certain I was the only person out there dumb enough to try this with a broken foot. Now don't misinterpret me when I say this, but compared to 4 years ago when I did this race and followed a "traditional plan" to the letter, this was easy. I'll say it again, don't misunderstand me. There were moments on the run that just plain sucked. A LOT. But I put in less than half the training volume than '06, never spent more than 2(ish) hours on the bike, HADN'T RUN IN 6 MONTHS, and still did better than I did in 2006, all on a broken foot. Given the splits I had when I was actually running, if my foot held together for the entire run I would have posted a fairly respectable time.  Not to mention that 3 days later I felt completely recovered, minus the foot pain. I should also state that this is not a case of consistent LSD training in the years leading up to the race being enhanced by strength training, and I am not built like an endurance athlete. From 2007-2009, including all of my time in Iraq, I did almost no aerobic training, save for a little running. Draw your own conclusions, but I know what works for me.

Left to right- Me, Liz, Chris, Tony